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Federal, state, tribal collaborators celebrate return of Red Lake walleye

RED LAKE -- Last Saturday, members of the Red Lake Nation angled for the first walleye from their sacred lake for the first time in almost nine years.

This Saturday, the state will open the eastern portion of Upper Red Lake to sport walleye fishing for non-Red Lake members. The fishery will be managed and regulated by the state and tribal DNR to maintain a sustainable harvest for generations to come.

To celebrate the recovery of a fishery that in the 1990s was on the brink of destruction from over fishing, the Red Lake Nation invited guests from tribal, state and federal entities to a ceremony and feast on Thursday at the Red Lake Humanities Center.

"Ladies and gentlemen, the walleyes are back," said Red Lake Chairman Floyd Jourdain Jr. "A very, very happy time. There are smiles on people's faces. This recovery effort is nothing less than phenomenal. It's a smashing success."

Before leading the gathering in opening prayer, Spiritual Leader Frank Dickinson spoke of the spirit of the lake and the spirit of the walleye that nourish the people in body and soul.

Jourdain recalled the rejoicing on Saturday as people fished the lake and rivers. He described a man recounting how he fished as a youngster, families teaching their children to fillet and the sacrifices necessary to bring the resource back.

Bureau of Indian Affairs Director Pat Ragsdale described the recovery as "more than a restoration of a fish, but a restoration of our spirit."

"Mother Earth has given us a wonderful resource," said Minnesota DNR Commissioner Gene Merriam. "It's incumbent on us to take care of it. Nurture these resources. Make sure they are here for our children and grandchildren."

Sharon Josephson, a representative of Congressman Collin Peterson, DFL-Seventh District, spoke of keeping a vision and a resource for descendants into the seventh generation.

Mike Swan, representing White Earth Tribal Chairwoman Erma Vizenor, emphasized that people learn from mistakes, but must be careful not to repeat them.

Leech Lake Chairman George Goggleye and Bois Fort Chairman Kevin Leecy expressed similar sentiments.

"We have the spirit of the fish and the lake itself telling us that however things were in the past, we have the power to make them better in the future," said George Spangler, biologist with the University of Minnesota Department of Fisheries. Spangler has been part of the recovery team.

During the afternoon award presentations, Red Lake Secretary Judy Roy also addressed the theme of sustaining the walleye fishery. She expressed thanks to all the people who observed the fishing moratorium, especially the elders who went without one of their favorite foods.

"They went out and led the way," Roy said. "We have to remember that we don't inherit our land and resources from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children and grandchildren."

Other speakers and members of the fishery recovery partnership celebration included BIA Midwest Region Director Terry Virden, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Deputy Regional Director Charles Wooley and Native American Fish & Wildlife Society Executive Director Ira Newbreast.

Following the morning's speeches and congratulations to the collaborators in the fishery recovery, the gathering broke for a feast of walleye, wild rice and other traditional foods.

Jourdain concluded the morning's remarks with a statement of the Red Lake Nation's commitment to regulate the resource and enforce catch limits. Studies indicate that a sustainable harvest is no more than 168,000 pounds for state waters and 827,000 pounds for Red Lake Nation waters. The Tribal Council set a 10-fish daily limit with slot limits to conserve the mature reproducing fish. The state limit is two fish per day, with similar slot limits.

The Red Lake DNR and Minnesota DNR are also urging anglers to become partners in protecting the resource and reporting violations on TIP (Turn In Poachers) lines. Both DNRs will also continuously monitor the walleye population to make sure the fishery remains viable.